CBS Sports Audio Lets Viewers Listen in at PGA Championship

Off-the-shelf Apple AirPods pick up golfer/caddy chat

CBS Sports’ coverage of the PGA Championship’s first round, which kicked off Thursday, is marked by a few new wrinkles. Notable among them is an in-ear development: Apple’s AirPod Pro earbuds, straight out of the Apple store and onto the 13th and 14th greens at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY.

The off-the-shelf earbuds, used to pick up the strategy conversations between golfer and caddy, connect via Bluetooth to a six-channel Riedel Bolero wireless beltpack, a first for broadcast golf, says Joe Carpenter, A1 on the CBS Sports production. A2 Jason Knapp is alongside with an antenna array for the Bluetooth link to the Riedel receiver. They’re using four channels of the Bolero beltpack for a pair of AirPods and associated IFB, as well as a PL for the A2 and a producer “hot” mic that alerts Knapp to which players the announcers are about to focus on.

“The idea of the Apple AirPod is more appealing to the golfers than a typical [broadcast] earpiece,” says Carpenter. He began experimenting with the Apple devices on the PGA’s West Coast tournaments in January, and they have been used on CBS, NBC, and ESPN golf broadcasts since then. “They’re something we’re seeing golfers and other athletes wearing already, like baseball players when they’re taking batting practice. Many of them own [earbuds] so they’re already familiar with them, and it doesn’t interfere with their swing. That helps in getting them to agree to wear them during broadcasts. And the PGA has gone along with it, which also makes it easier to deploy.”

It didn’t hurt, he adds, that the first golfer to agree to don the AirPods, Max Homa, also won the tournament, at California’s Torrey Pines course.

It’s a transparent solution, though not a completely flawless one. The Bluetooth connection between the AirPods and transmitter is fairly robust, Carpenter notes, but can be more subject to interference and distance than a professional RF microphone headset. But the clarity and intelligibility of the audio are broadcast-worthy.

“Bluetooth is the weakest link in the chain,” he explains, acknowledging that a consumer format like Bluetooth in a professional environment has its potential pitfalls. “You have to make sure your [A2s] have the Bolero receiver pack close enough to the players.”

Make Some Noise?

Among other aspects of applying these consumer products is whether to use their noise-canceling capability. Carpenter leaves that to the individual golfer: some prefer to have the ambience of the golf course in their ears; others welcome the artificial quiet of digital silence.

“It’s important to give them the option,” he says, “to test out each way with them ahead of time.”

One other new audio wrinkle is the use of the Audio-Technica BP28L shotgun microphone, which Carpenter loads in the parabolic-dish collectors. The microphone’s extremely tight pickup patterns have been useful in sealing off extraneous sound around the tees and greens, improving the pick-up of player/caddy conversations.

“If the shotgun mic’s right there and [the A2 is] close enough and getting good conversation,” he explains, “I’ll cross-fade over, and we’ll hear both people off the shotgun mic. When they walk away from the shotgun and are talking to the announcers, I go back to the AirPods. It’s great having so many options for this.”

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